When I signed up for School the World, I thought that speaking Spanish was going to be an important part of the trip. After all, the school we worked on was in Guatemala. However, I realized that understanding the “language of service” was much more important than actually being able to speak the local language.
As it turned out, playing with the students, working on the school, and expressing our gratitude for the warm welcome we received in the community could all be done without one word of Spanish or Quiché (the local indigenous language). It didn’t hit me at the end of the week, when we went around the room planning our thank you to the community, how surprisingly close the bonds that we formed with the community were.
During the dedication ceremony for the new school and playground in Morales, we had the opportunity to stand in front of the community and share some of our favorite parts of this week with them. When we shared our messages, I realized that not one included learning massive amounts of Spanish, yet almost all included interacting with the community.
What were these highlights of the week?
They included playing soccer, visiting a local home and making tortillas, seeing the kids’ smiles everyday, students helping to build the playground, piggy back rides, high fives from the students.
Even without sharing a native language, intense bonds formed between the local students and the visiting American students. But how?
All the students that I traveled with were open to every experience that came their way. Everyone smiled constantly and motioned things out when they didn’t know the words. Students asked the School the World staff the help start a game of soccer, but then took it from there. You don’t need to share a language to understand that yelling and clapping means great goal! and that waving with a paint bucket near the monkey bars means do you want to come help me paint this swing set?
Service often requires us to go beyond ourselves and think of others. I think that this is exactly what allows students on School the World trips to form such close bonds with the students and community they are serving.
An excitement to help and a willingness to learn about the community that you’re serving are essential. A high level of Spanish? Not so much.
By Shea Crowley, March 2017